Is the Federal Motor Fuel Tax Really ‘Broken’?

Chris RunyanOhio Contractors Association President Chris Runyan comments on the Federal Motor Fuel Tax.  Is it broken – or mismanaged?

One good thing about an editorial is that not only can I editorialize, I can vent – within reason. An article I recently read has prompted me to want to vent a little bit. In it, a U.S. House of Representatives member (not from Ohio), commenting on the United States’ need to borrow to maintain its spending levels and attempting to tie that fact into the sufficiency of the federal motor fuel tax, made this statement: “There is pressure when you’re borrowing 43 cents on every dollar you are spending. Long term, we’re going to have to do something since the gas tax is broken.”

That level of spending and the level of borrowing to spend to the extent our nation is spending, is definitely not a good thing. And, I imagine, all that borrowing to achieve all that spending no doubt has an impact on how legislators view each expenditure and every bill that entails expenditures coming across their desk. But those last five words, “the gas tax is broken” always seems to grate at my conscience whenever I hear those words being spoken. In my view, the gas tax is not broken – it has been MISMANAGED.

The federal motor fuel tax was created to construct and maintain the federal highway system. It was, and remains, a great funding mechanism. Not only does it generate a large amount of funds, it does so in a manner that reflects use (or at least it largely does). Payment based on usage is about as close to fairness as one can get with any type of money-generating concept. If a person does not use the system (i.e. they don’t drive) they don’t pay. The user who drives 1,000 miles pays more than a person who drives 500 miles. That is why the motor fuel tax is most properly viewed to be a user fee in lieu of a tax irrespective of the words that are used (tax vs. fee). An individual pays only when they use it.

But at some point, many points actually, things started to go awry. Right in front of our eyes, funds that are collected to build highways and bridges of federal interest were building, and continue to build, a whole lot more.

Read the complete text of Mr. Runyan’s article here.

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